Protesters Call on Taiwan to Tighten Human Trafficking Laws


Published Jul 25, 2018 7:50 PM by The Maritime Executive

The NGO coalition Human Rights for Migrant Fishers staged a protest on Wednesday in Taipei outside the Taiwan government’s workshop on combating human trafficking, saying the government is not doing enough to eradicate human rights abuses in the fishing industry.

The protest was staged outside the Taiwan Immigration Agency's hosting of the 2018 International Workshop on Strategies for Combating Human Trafficking. Despite this initiative, the coalition says the country does not do enough to combat exploitation and inhumane conditions for migrant workers on Taiwanese fishing vessels, especially the distant water fishing fleet. 

The coalition points to the latest U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, which highlighted recent cases such as the 81 migrant fishers who were locked in a cramped basement while their vessel was in port, and the behavior of a Taiwanese company that trafficked Cambodian fishers without being sanctioned.

This month, the International Labour Organization reported that a Taiwanese ship was the first to be detained for violating its basic standards of decent work in the fishing industry – the Work in Fishing Convention C188. The vessel was detained in South Africa. Taiwan has not yet ratified C188. 

The Secretary General of the Taiwan International Workers Association Chen Hsiulien said that current regulations might even facilitate human rights abuse - for instance, migrant workers are not allowed to freely change jobs – legally they have to have permission from their current boss or the government. The Fishery Agency also allows brokers to charge migrant fishers a fee before they start work – creating conditions suited to debt bondage, and many migrant workers’ identity documents are held by the brokers or employers.

The vast majority of fishers on Taiwan’s distant water fleet are recruited overseas from less developed countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines. In early 2017, the Fisheries Agency introduced new Regulations to govern migrant fishers recruited overseas. A gap analysis of ILO C188 and Taiwan’s regulations was conducted by the Environmental Justice Foundation, with the Foundation recommending the following urgent reforms:

1. Captains’ responsibility: captains’ responsibilities to the fishers onboard distant water vessels should be clarified. 
2. Medical checks: employers should provide appropriate medical checks before fishers start working to ensure their health and physical condition is fit for the difficult demands of fisheries work.
3. Resting time: The regulations should set a weekly rest day and should also include clear rules for compensation if fishers have to work overtime.
4. Payment: The regulations should not allow employers and employees to reach alternative agreements (such as deductions for placement) on salary payments and should ensure the international ILO minimum wage is received in full. Methods should also be provided for fishers to transfer wages to their family at no cost.
5. Repatriation: The regulations should allow fishers to return to their home country at no cost when they are no longer able to finish the contract or have other reasons to terminate their contract early.
6. Occupational safety: The regulations should require all fishers to receive maritime training and basic training for fishing.
7. Recruitment: The regulations should ensure that no fees or other charges for recruitment are paid by fishers directly or indirectly in whole or in part.
8. Insurance: The regulations should set clear rules for compensation in the event of an accident.
9. Contract: The regulations should ensure that fishers are able to review and understand their contract fully before signing it. These should also set the rules and notice time for both parties to terminate contracts, as well as the responsibility of any resulting costs.
10. Implementation: The competent authority should introduce clear and robust measures for inspection, supervision, reporting and sanctions. It should also enhance international cooperation to secure the opportunities to conduct labor inspections in foreign ports. Information exchange should also be enhanced to avoid vessels using ports of convenience or repeated transhipments to avoid periodic inspections.

Deputy Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation Max Schmid said: “There is still a significant gap between Taiwan’s regulations and international standards. Currently Taiwan’s systems cannot effectively protect migrant fishers from trafficking. The Taiwan government must urgently ratify international conventions, including the Work in Fishing Convention, and robustly implement laws to address both human rights abuses and the related problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.”